The Christmas season’s annual round of musical celebrations was completed by the Opera North Orchestra’s exploration of waltzes, overtures and arias from Johann Strauss II and his peers.
The concert’s presenter, Classic FM’s John Suchet, has a new book out on the subject, and conductor John Rigby, who studied at Huddersfield University, is currently researching for a doctorate in Viennese operetta and the works of Léhar.
With so much erudition on the platform it was no surprise that the profundity of this music, its rich and complex harmonies rooted in the multicultural nature of Vienna, was emphasised. The Opera North Orchestra’s ability to vary tone colour and bring out the ambiguous and sometimes frantic nature of this bitter-sweet music was world-class.
The music needs, and so infrequently receives, such world-class playing. After all, Johann Strauss II was a friend of Brahms and Wagner, was admired by many composers including Schoenberg, and the great Viennese conductor Felix Weingartner always found “something tragic” in the music. It is also, of course, first–class light entertainment.
Few orchestras anywhere can pull off the full range of this music with the panache and skill of the Opera North Orchestra.
They were matched by soprano soloist Jennifer France who, seemingly, can do it all. Beguiling soubrette in Adele’s Laughing Song from Die Fledermaus, dramatic and muscular in Zeller’s Schenkt man sich Rosen, wonderfully controlled and meditative in Léhar’s Vilja, a Hollywood-style star in arias from Léhar’s Giuditta and Kálmán’s
Kaiserin Josephine. In Richard Strauss’s fiendishly difficult song Amor her technique and dramatic delivery were stunningly unsurpassable.
Conductor John Rigby set perfectly-judged and relaxed tempos throughout, and did everything with elegance and flow.
There were so many orchestral highlights. Three proclaimed this orchestra’s absolute mastery. The Overture to Johann Strauss II’s operetta A Night in Venice opened in sonorous Wagnerian style, and its extended waltz melody – more Berlin than Vienna in tone – was articulated exquisitely.
The string quintet in Strauss II’s Tales from the Vienna Woods was a fluttering zither ländler, and also some of the best chamber musicianship I have ever heard at Huddersfield Town Hall. The orchestral sequence of waltzes from Richard Strauss’s opera Intermezzo was as stunning as Jennifer France’s Amor. This emotionally fraught piece was precociously played – no London orchestra can perform this well these days.